Palm Zire ReviewBy: Dan Royea, PalmEvolution.com
October 7, 2002
Introduction: Palm Inc. is revamping much of its handheld line for Fall 2002 and the first model released is the Zire, an entry-level device introduced at a new low price point: $99. With it's basic feature set, it isn't the kind of device that PIC regulars are going to get overly excited about, but it should appeal to a lot of people who might not have seriously considered getting a PDA before.
Design: First impressions are always important, and the Zire makes a good one with a sleek, clean design that feels great in the hand. The glossy white face and contrasting metallic grey back and button cluster have an attractive modern look. It's also pleasingly compact (approximately m515 size) and noticably lightweight (3.8 oz) so the "pocket-ability" factor is great!
A questionable design decision is the non-standard 4-button cluster, which has Date Book on the left, Address on the right and Up and Down scroll buttons. The power button sits to the left. The omission of the ToDo and Memo buttons may simplify things, but the few apps (notably games) that remap the buttons to other functions aren't going to work. The four buttons share a central indent so navigation by feel is easy to adapt to. Pressing the buttons produces a soft tactile click.
A flush black panel on top ofin the Zire hides the infrared transceiver and includes jacks for the mini-USB and power connectors. These are the only connectors, so none of the "Palm Universal Connector" accessories will work with the Zire.
Hardware: Although it runs the latest Palm OS 4.1, the electronic componentry is definitely entry-level - the processor is the basic 16MHz Dragonball EZ and there's a meagre 2MB of RAM. Out of the box, only 1.8MB memory is available for data and additional applications.
The screen is a 160x160 pixel, 16-level greyscale with great contrast comparable to the m500. (note: the scans here really don't do it justice!) It is also on the small side (2.0" across vs. 2.25" on an m500). Now here's a shocker -- there is NO backlight, the only Palm OS device to not have this feature since the original 1996 pilot! While this undoubtably helps keep the cost down and will extend battery life greatly, the screen just won't be viewable in dimly-lit areas or in the dark. Hrmmm.
The screen uses a plastic digitizer layer instead of a fragile glass one, and doesn't suffer from the mushy feel of some other handhelds - Graffiti input feels solid and responsive. The Graffiti area silkscreen print includes little Clock and Contrast tap-icons and the newer star-shaped Favorites replacing the older Calculator. By default, this is set to HotSync, but it can be remapped to any application.
The stylus is a basic plastic "stick" with no reset pin. It docks securely in the silo with a satisfying click, but because there is no protrusion or texture on the exposed end, it is tricky to remove without using a fingernail.
One area where Palm Inc. didn't skimp out is the power source, a rechargeable lithium ion (LiIon) battery. With the Zire's minimalist electronic componentry and lack of backlight, this handheld should have excellent battery life. The included 5V 300mA AC adapter tops up the battery in a couple of hours and there's a Preferences setting to keep the device on while charging.
For alarms and system sounds, Palm uses an old-style piezo disc "speaker", with a relatively weak volume. New users who expect to use their Zire for an alarm clock had better be light sleepers.
Connectivity is via the mini-USB port and an included USB connector cable. The cable has no HotSync button, so syncing must be initiated from the application. Standard IrDA is also included so the Zire can beam with other Palm OS devices or even Ir-sync with a suitably equipped laptop or PC.
The included flip cover is made from a flexible, translucent blue material that anchors securely into a lateral slot in the back and wraps over the top to cover the face. Its low profile design adds only 2mm to the overall depth of the device. Because it is flexible, it should protect the screen from scratches, but it's not very effective at keeping the buttons from being pressed and offers marginal screen protection from impacts. Worse, the elastomeric compound has an annoying tendency to flop back onto the screen after you flip it open. It can be held against the back of the handheld to keep it in place, but it wouldn't be surprising if most flip-lids quickly end up in a drawer. Palm should have substituted a couple of removable screen protectors and spared users from this FlipFlapFlop ;-)
|Size & Weight:||4.4" x 2.9" x 0.6"; 3.8 oz.|
|Processor:||16MHz Dragonball EZ; OS 4.1|
|Memory:||2MB RAM (1.8MB avail.); 2MB mask ROM|
|Screen:||160x160 pixel; 16-grey; no backlight|
|Power:||LiIon (3.7V, 600 mAh)|
|Connectivity:||mini-USB with cable, IrDA|
For the technically-curious, here's a look at the internals:
Software: The Zire comes preloaded with only the core set of Palm OS PIM and System applications, plus Expense and Palm Inc.'s own Clock and NotePad apps. No Mail app though, probably to prevent users from filling up the limited memory. A nice touch first seen on the m100: pressing the Up button when the device is off pops up the time and date for a couple of seconds.
Bundled applications are pretty basic: the included CD-ROM has a few familiar games (Giraffe, Hardball, Minehunt and Puzzle). Also on the CD are the latest vesions of Palm Desktop for Windows and Mac, as well as Chapura PocketMirror for syncing with MS Outlook.
Because the device runs Palm OS 4.1, it is fully compatible with the majority of available applications (the main exception being those that rely on having the standard set of hardware buttons). The ROM includes the standard libraries to support TCP/IP, Network Syncing, etc. so nifty tricks such as getting an Internet connection via an Ir & modem-equipped cell phone are possible. The main software limitation is simply the small amount of memory available. It could be argued that 2MB will be more than adequate for the intended target market, but a new user who develops interests beyond the basics is going to be looking at upgrading to something more capable in a hurry. Hmm, could that be part of Palm's strategy? ;-)
Market Positioning: Zire stands alone in the "sub-$100" category, a price which some say breaks a psychological purchasing barrier. Palm is aiming to broaden the market by promoting Zire to new users as a paper replacement. It will certainly be interesting to see where Zire ads pop up!
Over the last few years, Palm Inc.'s handheld price-of-admission has dropped from $229 (IIIe) to $149 (m100) to Zire's new benchmark of $99. The processor and memory specs haven't changed - they remain adequate to do the basics. The main changes in the entry-level category: the devices are getting smaller and arguably, more attractive; the USB connection and rechargeable battery are feature upgrades, with the trade-off of no backlight and 2 less buttons.
Are new Zire buyers getting enough bang for their buck? Ignoring discontinued models, the next tier includes the Palm m125, the Sony SL10 and the Handspring Neo, which for an additional $50 offer processors twice as fast, four times the RAM, expansion, and yes, even a backlight! (But not the rechargeable battery.) Many power users would urge spending the extra money, but a new user might not see enough advantage for a 50% premium.
Summary: The Zire has great potential for expanding the numbers of Palm OS users. The combination of low price, attractive design and basic functionality will be a powerful purchasing incentive. The intuitive nature of the Palm OS and the rich variety of available software will compel these new users to integrate the handheld into their daily lives.
In many ways, the Zire redefines "Simply Palm".
OVERALL RATING: 6.8 / 10
|Design:||small & stylish; demerits for flip-lid|
|Features:||the basics, without being crippled|
|Screen:||crisp greyscale but no backlight|
|Battery:||rechargeable + low-power hardware = long life|
|Value:||a real Palm Powered device for $99|
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